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Conversations: LA/Leiden – Nature and the City

Think of it like this – take some of the greatest artists and turn them loose in a science clubhouse – mix it all up and see what happens.

This was one of my favorite projects. The “conversations” referred to are those between artists and scientists. While we sometimes think of them residing in different camps, this film puts them in the same playground… where shared spheres of creativity and curiosity are exposed and celebrated. All are heavy hitters in their respective fields, I felt supremely lucky to spend two weeks filming this experiment among some of the wisest and wittiest humans I’ve met. It felt much like a naked improv performance – most of them had no idea what they were going to do/make, and approached it with such fearlessness, never seeming to rely on safe old tricks, instead keeping it raw and open, letting the collaboration slowly unfold and emerge organically. They all freely shared their thoughts as Peter Kirby and I followed them around, becoming players ourselves in a way. Watching it again before posting this, I was surprised how potent it still is. I’m not exaggerating or being melodramatic in the slightest when I say – I got to hang with wise men ….or mostly men as it happened to be… the artists were all men – and all well known throughout the world. We filmed at the epic Naturalis  in Leiden, Holland – one of the grand Natural History Museums of Europe, with the legacy of Dutch explorers combing the world for “artifacts”, much of which are now normally hidden away in large underground warehouses out of the awkward light of modern times – the legacy of plundering the greatest creatures and artifacts on the planet to bring home and admire. Only small portions are normally brought up into the air. These themes played out in the installations with awe, humor and grace. Ed Moses’ piece was especially potent – and I don’t think anyone but him could have predicted how impacting unearthing such a massive collection would be – bringing all above ground, to be display in a forensics type setting. Originally planned for a smaller space – an entire 70′ long room was added for his piece alone, doubling the size of the exhibition. It was awesome – I felt a simultaneous sense of being in a morgue and a church – horrifying, yet reverant.

In the the weeks that followed back in Los Angeles, turning the experience and all the footage into a piece that would capture the spirit and significance of what went down was a challenge I dove into with dedication, feeling an obligation to translate its essence into a package that would break through the viewer’s skeptical shell… hoping to unlock the wonder and potential in us all.

- I like to think I have a unique blend of education, sensibility, and ignorance that serves museum, and specifically art and science projects well. I have a great love for art and science, though am not trained in either. I have a scant knowledge of art history and i don’t closely follow the art scene – with a few exceptions. Yet I am conscious of art and aesthetics in nearly everything I do, on a very fundamental level. My formal anthropology training focused my innate curiously on “why we do what we do” – both as a group (culture) and as individuals – psychological anthropology was a focus for me. I often explain what I do as an editor and film maker is that of the “filter”. I grok the story, then give a lot of thought to how best transmit that to an audience, seeking the greatest cross section of ability to receive the info, and the deep hooks needed to allow the message to stick, often striving for connection on an emotional level, but always conscious of the brain needing to sign off…to ease people in. I use every trick available  – and have developed hybrid doc and experimental film approach. There is an advantage to the editor or film maker to not have much more information than the general audience,  so we can view the material and its impact through their eyes. I often develop a deep connection to the information and pay careful attention to the filters used to entertain, delight and inform. This sensitivity helps me maintain gauge to how the info will be received.

Peter Kirby of Media Art Services and I collaborated on the production. Vanda Vitali was a driving force behind this and many Natural History Museum projects I was involved in.

The artist were:
John Outterbridge
Mike McMillen
Paul McCarthy and Raivo Puusemp
Ed Moses
John Hassell

A companion book was made with many of our stills from the shoot, and a DVD of the film was bundled inside.

 The film you see here is slightly altered from the original – I trimmed down the long winded intro which some felt was needed. It is still a little dry until the first artist, John Outterbridge, kicks in…  hopefully you will stick with it because it is a good ride (and the points made in the intro are relevant – just packaged with an academic flavor).






"we are the music-makers
and we are the
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